Pierre’s life began in slavery in Haiti. He was educated by the Bérard family. When the family left for New York City in 1797, they took Pierre with them. Even in New York, he remained a slave, but he also became a successful hairdresser. When Mr. Bérard died during a trip back to Haiti, Pierre voluntarily took on the support of his widow. And when Mrs. Bérard was dying, she promised that Pierre would be freed from slavery.
Pierre had saved his earnings, and so, when he was freed, he continued his hairdressing business and concerned himself with helping the poor of New York City. He supported the Orphan Asylum. He sheltered orphans in his home and fostered young boys, supporting their education and helping them get jobs. He began a credit bureau, an employment agency, and a refuge for priests and other needy travelers.
Pierre spoke both French and English, so he helped other immigrants from Haiti and France. He nursed cholera patients during an epidemic. He helped raise money to build the first cathedral in New York City (now known as Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral). Pierre Toussaint died on June 30, 1857, at the age of 87. He was originally buried in the cemetery of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His remains were moved to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in 1990.
(Image by Anthony Meucci, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)